THE Co-operative Party is searching for a new General Secretary after the surprise announcement that Peter Hunt plans to leave the post next month to set up a Westminster-based public affairs consultancy, writes Dave Bowman.
Mr Hunt, 41, will be joined in the new venture by Matt Ball, currently Parliamentary Officer with the Party, who is also working his notice and will leave on March 3rd.
The General Secretary told the News that he wanted a new challenge after ten years in charge of running the Co-op Party's affairs, but said he would continue to be involved in the co-operative and mutual sector and will stay on as Chief Executive of the think tank and advisory body Mutuo.
In the past, Mutuo has contracted staff services from the Co-op Party, but from early March they will be contracted from Mr Ball and Mr Hunt's new enterprise, Westminster Bridge Partnership.
Mr Hunt will continue to service the Co-operative Parliamentary Group in the interim period until his successor is appointed, but the day to day running of the Party will be overseen by Deputy General Secretary Karen Wilkie.
Said Mr Hunt: "I have thoroughly enjoyed my time working for the Co-operative Party and I believe I am leaving the Party in a great position, it's as strong as its been for a number of years. But both Matt and I felt we needed a new challenge and the time is right to move on.
"Sometimes an organisation like the Co-op Party can benefit from a new management team as well."
Mr Hunt was appointed as the Party's National Secretary in 1997 after the departure of the previous incumbent Dr Peter Clarke, who had been National Secretary since 1992.
Mr Hunt, formerly the Party's Southern Section Organiser, presided over a re-structuring of the Party with a number of regional organisers losing their jobs in favour of a more centralised HQ-orientated operation, driven by the need to reduce expenditure.
In recent months, Mr Hunt has robustly defended the Co-op Party's historic role as a ?sister party' to Labour and has been highly critical of attempts by Conservative Party figures to claim a co-operative tradition and ethos.
Mr Ball, 32, told the News: "It has been a privilege to work for the Party for the past seven years and I am very proud of the Party's achievements during that time, from the successful Private Members' Bills through to the rise in profile of our Parliamentary Group and the respect the Party now has with the Labour Government.
"Peter and I are grateful for the support we have enjoyed throughout."
The NEC of the Co-op Party is understood to be meeting soon to agree a recruitment timetable and process to fill the vacancies.